• Communicating vessels: an allegory to improving education

    by  • August 17, 2012 • Schools and Communities • 0 Comments

    I’ve been working on a project over the past few weeks that has been getting me involved with the realities of schools. I realised some harsh truths about how schools need to operate in order to tick the boxes they are asked to tick. I found out that often, educators get so wrapped up in trying to please Ofsted, or parents or the students insatiable thirst for grades that what they really believe in slowly fades away.

    Silos that stood the test of time are proving to be a possible hindrance in 21st century education.

    Silos that stood the test of time are proving to be a possible hindrance in 21st century education.

    One of the most difficult realities this culture often leads to is silos. Tall, insulated structures, each stands on their own, responsible for maintaining the integrity of their own treasure of grain. For years, working as silos worked out well.

    In some schools (and possibly most common), the silos are subject silos: The English team, the ICT team, the Maths team, the sciences team. Each specialising in their own subject. Masters of the curriculum and how to deliver it to different age groups.

    In smaller schools, where there are just about enough students to fill a class or two for each age group, the silos tend to be age silos: They are either grouped in twos or threes (years 1 to 3, years 7 to 9). Here, the silo isn’t about mastery of the subject, but mastery of the students.

    The reason silos used to work really well is because of what tended to happen at different stages of a student’s life: their aptitude will be tested in a variety of crossroads. Their grades and classroom performance will be factored in, and – hey presto – we can tell whether this student will take the professional training root or the further education.

    Although this seemingly archaic timeline has not been in operation for a number of years, it continued to serve us well. Especially in recent years, where league tables were complied with grade averages in different subjects, as well as the teaching quality. Here, the mastery of both subject and student stood in good stead for schools. They allowed each master to control their group and protect their treasure of grain.

    This project, however, is making me think about doing more with the curriculum. Having mentioned this in a previous post, I believe that small changes can help schools prepare students much better for the worlds of higher education, career and business.

    I spend quite a bit of time over the past week reading the variety of mandatory and non-mandatory curriculums for primary and secondary schools. I started reading them as part of this project, but also following my post from last week about Rhizomatic learning. I found out that DfE are somewhat helpful by suggesting crossovers between subjects: “opportunity for ICT”, it would say on page 11 of the History for secondary school curriculum.

    Hand on heart – I don’t know how many teachers go through these, and I don’t know how many capitalise on the opportunity to cross subjects over. And – no offense – with a rather vanilla approach to the crossover suggestions, teachers are left with a lot of work to make some of them a reality.

    Communicating vessels: opening the silos up to become an integrated system. A better balance?

    Communicating vessels: opening the silos up to become an integrated system. A better balance?

    That said, I believe that changing the silo system and allowing for more crossover is the way forward. Taking into consideration the interconnected world that we live in, a world students are more fluent in than their parents or teachers, it is only natural that history can connect with career education and citizenship. It – actually – makes perfect sense that science, geography, ICT and wellbeing can work together.

    Don’t get me wrong. I’m not calling on abolishing all classroom delivery. There is still a strong need to have teachers who deliver lessons to students. However, I’m suggesting that they not be enclosed within their subjects. I’m suggesting they can do so much more if they shared some of their grain with another subject, and maybe another to make learning more current and more accessible to students.



    A quick word about career education

    I have a corner in my heart for career education (CIAG, CEIAG or any other acronym you may wish to give it) because of my background. I have seen how good career advice can change a person’s life for the better, just as bad career advice can doom a person for an unnecessary life of under-achieving.

    Part by personal experience and part by observing what schools and teachers do towards career education, I think there is room to remove career education from its silo. Not only because it has now been put in the least important silo of all (the non-mandatory silo), but because not mixing career education with other subjects is such a great disservice to the students, the teachers and the schools themselves.

    Career education, being so practical (and – really – not rocket science) is so easy to weave into both humanities and sciences. The link between careers and the spoken and written word and how well a student articulates themselves is so obvious – it’s a shame not to make use of it.

    If I’m honest, I would imagine quite a few schools already do it but are not claiming the judos they deserve either on the career education side, or on the side subject they weave it with.

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